Rhone Rangers, Los Angeles, August, 2016

| August 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

Rhone Rangers, Los Angeles, August, 2016

Lotus #1a1.  Seminar—Rhone Blends

This year, the Rhone Rangers Los Angeles event started with a seminar on Rhone Blends, moderated by Patrick Comiskey.  Patrick began the seminar with an historical overview of the California wine industry, and in particular, the role of blending.  He observed that California has always been about the varietal blending, going back to such varieties as Zinfandel, Mataro, Carignan, and Petite Syrah.  At the very beginning, the California wine market was one that “aimed low,” meaning producing inexpensive wines for everyday consumers based on blends.  As time went on, blending in California was influenced by European models.  For example, the Napa Cabernet blends were modeled on Bordeaux.  When Chateauneuf-du-Pape become widely imported into the U.S., California wineries began to think about making wines modeled on southern Rhone blends.PC #1a

Certain California winemakers and wineries were especially influential in blending Rhone varieties.  In particular, the Perrin/Haas collaboration that resulted in Tablas Creek was responsible for the official importation of Rhone vines (as opposed to various unofficial imports in people’s luggage).  Many of the Rhone varietals planted in California now can trace their origins to the vines they imported.

Patrick also talked about one of the earliest Rhone blends by Sean Thackrey, the Pleiades bottling.  This Thackrey wine was specifically made based on blending decisions, following a “cuisine de marche” approach—a blending aimed for what would sell in the market.

As Patrick discussed how we might think about the various Rhone blends, he asked the winemakers and the audience to consider what was the “objective” for the wine—harmony, deliciousness, complexity, etc.  As the seminar proceeded, it was clear that there were many potential objectives to be served such as selecting a lead grape variety with the other grapes filling in missing elements (such as structure, acid, or tannins).  While a winemaker can pursue make a particular blend with the idea that the blending will achieve a consistent style from vintage to vintage, style consistency is not a necessary component.  Variations can be inevitable, especially for winemakers using purchased fruit, since vineyard sources can (and do) vary over time.

Additional objectives, or approaches, became clear as we moved through the seminar.  For example, a winery can aim to make a blend that represents the upper-end of their offerings.  Tablas Creek has varietal bottlings, but they also make upper-end blends designated under the “Esprit” label.  At the other end of the spectrum, you can have more “value” blends.  Sometimes those blends are composed largely of barrels that didn’t make the cut for either single vineyard or single varietal bottlings.

Glasses #2a

Of the seven wines tasted at the seminar, these were my top wines:

  1. 2014 Tercero Verbiage Blanc. I had previously tasted this white Rhone blend from Larry just a few weeks ago in his tasting room, and it was one of my favorite white Rhone blends from that trip.  It’s a blend built around Roussanne (64%), with Viognier (24%) and Grenache Blanc (12%) rounding out the chorus.  The Viognier adds the perfumy aromatics, and the Grenache Blanc fills out the midpalate.  A delicious wine that sees no new oak, and an excellent overall blend.
  1. 2015 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Blanc. Composed in almost equal parts of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Roussanne, this is an even more aromatic, expressive white due to the Viognier.  As Jason Haas commented, the Viognier can be very expressive, but tends to be low in acidity, so the Grenache Blanc fills in acidity and verve.  In this case, they used 100% of their available Viognier, and then used the other grapes to fill in.
  1. 2014 Qupe Los Olivos Cuvee. It’s predominantly Syrah, with Mourvedre and Grenache coming along for the ride.  This is a relatively lower alcohol red Rhone blend, with excellent savory and herbal notes, and a bit of white pepper on the finish.  Lovely overall balanace between the fruit and acidity, with nothing out of place.
  1. 2012 Ridge Lytton Estate Syrah Grenache. This wine is available only to the wine club (unfortunately), and thus is not available retail.  It’s a beautiful, perfumy, blend, with great elegance in the midpalate—lots of espresso, dark chocolate, and a bit of black pepper.Rhone Rangers–The Tasting


Rhone Rangers–The Tasting

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